The smuggling of rare and endangered animals for anything from collecting to food delicacies is not a new story. The past several decades have seen a slow and even occasionally effective crackdown on live smuggling. Unfortunately, the smuggling of animal parts seems to have even increased in some areas in recent years. Animal parts, such as Elk Lips and Monkey Brains are considered delicacies and ritual foods in some parts of the world, and the tusks of elephants and mammoths are valued highly for ornamental work. In the East especially, bear gallbladders, certain frogs, and spotted deer genitals are sought after for their medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities. Even if the animals are not rare or endangered, they are still being slaughtered by the thousands and could end up that way.
In the East, after several decades, the border between Russia and China has opened again for trade and travelling between the countries. Recently there have been large seizures on both sides of smuggled animal parts. In May of this year, 213 severed bear paws were discovered in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, and seized by Chinese authorities. They were found inside the tires of a truck. One of the largest seizures in Chinese history it was reported by China Central Television that it was worth about 2.8 million yen, or about $460,000 on the Chinese black market. A report in China’s Global Times stated that the paws were believed to be from brown bears. These are a protected animal in China, but they are in high demand as an ingredient in cuisine or expensive gifts. Two Russian men are in custody.
This week, on the other side of the border in Russia, Moscow authorities captured 26 elk lips, 1,041 bear paws, lynx fur, claw parts and five tusks from the extinct woolly mammoth. The Russian officials were alerted to the parts when dogs scented them in a secret compartment in the bed of a Chinese man’s truck. Border agents and customs officials stated that the total illegal shipment weighed about 1.4 tons, and it was the largest capture of bear claws since a prior cache of 797 claws were seized.
The mammoth tusks are taken from the permafrost along Siberia’s upper layer where an estimated 150 million have laid at rest for millions of years. They can be exported legally with a license and are shipped to China and Japan where they are carved into personal stamps. The license requires that exporters turn any tusks marked with signs of ancient disease or slaughter marks over to researchers. To avoid this loss, and others, the tusks are smuggled illegally.
Russia, China, and the East are not the only parts of the world still affected by the smuggling of animal parts. The World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the sale of smuggled animals and animal parts range in the billions of dollars. This total is just under that of the sale of illegal drugs and firearms. Craig Hoover, deputy director of TRAFFIC, an organization that monitors wildlife trading for World Wildlife Fund, recently said of the illegal animal trade, “We know that in global legal trade, it measures in the tens of billions of dollars worldwide. And the U.S. is one of the biggest consumers, making up 30 percent of global trading.”
Federal investigators in the United Sates and customs and border officials across the globe find themselves undermanned and underfunded in most cases. Agencies are having a hard time keeping up with both the smugglers and the seemingly never-ending appetite of their black market customers. It isn’t hard to see that a change in attitude on both ends of the spectrum is needed as well as an increase in legislation and penalties if this problem is to be solved any time soon.